Super PACs, the organizations that can raise and spend unlimited amounts to influence elections, had a deadline of midnight yesterday to disclose their donors. But because of legal loopholes and poor oversight from the Federal Election Commission, many donors will remain hidden.
The disclosures echo much of what we already know about this crop of presidential contenders: Mitt Romney’s Restore Our Future had raised $30.2 million through Dec. 31, 98 percent of it coming from large donors. Despite having raised a reported $10 million from the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his family, Newt Gingrich’s super PAC’s filing doesn’t list Adelson as a donor, thanks to the fact that Adelson donated this sizable chunk of cash after the Dec. 31 cutoff date.
The New York Times has a good breakdown of who’s financing the super PACs.
The main narrative in the news today, especially coming after Romney’s big win in the Florida primary, is how Romney and his super PAC stopped Gingrich’s post-South Carolina rise with a barrage of negative ads. Reuters reports that many of Romney’s super PAC donors have been “financial titans”:
The group’s filings reveal a broad base of donors who have given $100,000 or more, taking advantage of the lack of limits on donations to such groups. Campaigns are limited to $2,500 donations per donor.
Among the most generous contributors to Romney’s cause have been people who share Romney’s investment background…
Three hedge fund managers pitched in $1 million to the pro-Romney PAC: Tiger Management’s Julian Robertson, Elliot Management’s Paul Singer and Renaissance Technology’s Robert Mercer…
The list of major donors to Restore Our Future is studded with other veterans of Wall Street and the investment community.
While disclosure is necessary in theory, the system is rigged by loopholes. One of the most glaring is that these disclosures came after Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida had already cast their primary votes. Another is that the reports only include donors who gave funds before Dec. 31, leaving off big names like Adelson – a man who arguably has spent more money than anyone else on the Republican election so far this year.
But, as Norman Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, writes in Roll Call today, super PACs at least require “some kind of disclosure, however woeful”:
Then we have the ruse being used by groups such as American Crossroads GPS — manipulating the tax code knowing that a feckless IRS won’t even enforce its own regulations, to create 501(c)(4) organizations that do not have to disclose any of their donors because they claim that political activities make up only a fraction of their overall work (LOL). And we have the ability of major corporations to hide their campaign donations by using the cloak of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Meanwhile, Josh Silver, CEO of United Republic, criticized the false semblance of transparency around these disclosures:
The system is rotten to the core. Requiring that all political money be immediately politically transparent is a good first step, but alone is not enough. Our ways of funding and running elections have become corrupt and outdated relics. We need to throw them out, and create a completely new, 21st century system with tighter spending and contribution limits and strict controls on independent expenditures like super PACs.